Creepy or quaint? Scary or serene? Depending on the viewer's state of mind (and the weather in New York City), British artist Cornelia Parker's Transitional Object/PsychoBarn can be either/or. Drawing inspiration from the iconic paintings of American artist Edward Hopper, and Alfred Hitchcock's unforgettable 1960 horror film, Psycho, Parker's site-specific art installation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden transforms reclaimed materials into a fantasy-evoking facade that creates the illusion of a rural home that has been plopped atop the museum. But whether the house is idyllic or malevolent is entirely in the eye of the beholder.
“For this summer’s Roof Garden Commission, Cornelia has developed an astonishing architectural folly that intertwines a Hitchcock-inspired iconic structure with the materiality of the rural vernacular,” said Sheena Wagstaff, the Metropolitan Museum’s Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art. “Combining a deliciously subversive mix of inferences, ranging from innocent domesticity to horror, from the authenticity of landscape to the artifice of a film set, Cornelia’s installation expresses perfectly her ability to transform clichés to beguile both eye and mind.”
“When I was here, I was having this immediate reaction that I wanted to almost hark back to the way that New York began when when it was full of settlers from Europe bringing their red barns over,” said Parker at yesterday morning’s press preview of PsychoBarn. “My first idea was to take a red barn…take it down, rebuild it on the Met roof and have a barnraising on the roof…But then I realized how big these barns are and [that they] would block out the view and no one would be able to see New York (laughs).”
Although Parker eventually decided to go in a slightly less literal direction, the vision of a rural structure stayed with her and was further shaped and strengthened when she went to see American artist Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad at the MoMA. After learning that the 1925 oil painting had been Hitchcock’s inspiration for the Bates house in his 1960 thriller, Psycho, the artist formed her final concept of a structure that flickers back and forth between sinister and sweet. In addition to describing this constantly wavering state, “transitional object” (a psychological term that refers to an object, like a security blanket, that helps to wean children off of breastfeeding) alludes back to Norman Bates, the main character in Psycho, and his unhealthy attachment to his mother.
Parker sourced the materials for PsychoBarn locally from an old barn in upstate New York. The salvaged siding, windows, posts, floors and roofing that make up the structure give it an authentic, weathered look that contrasts sharply against New York’s slick skyline.
The structure appears to be a full-sized home upon first glance, but a quick look around back reveals that it is a facade propped up by the same kind of scaffolding used for movie sets.
Transitional Object/PsychoBarn is the fourth in the Met’s series of commissions for its Roof Garden space and will be on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Roof Garden from April 19-October 31, weather permitting.